Whisky Me Away
December 16, 2009 8:14 AM   Subscribe

What's a good scotch (or non-scotch) whisky that I can get for $15 - $20?

It's Secret Santa season at my office, and my meta-boss is my target. Instructions are to secretly give sub-$5 presents Monday through Thursday, and a more expensive present on Friday. My target enjoys his booze (responsibly!), so I plan to give him $15 to $20 worth of pleasurable scotch whisky or whisky whisky.

I suggest both because, really, I don't know or care. I'm not much of a drinker, and when I do drink, you could convince me turpentine was a fine liquor. This is a double challenge because I realise $20 doesn't go far, and I'd like to avoid the swill water. Even a 300mL flask of something quality would be great.

Which type of whisky should I aim for? What's a good brand that's easily acquired for $15 - $20? By 'easily acquired', I mean I'll probably be hitting up Spec's in town.
posted by spamguy to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (In hindsight the last sentence looks like a viral advert. I linked to it because they have a catalog of their stuff if you cared to check if your recommendation was there. I am not actually shilling for these guys.)
posted by spamguy at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2009

For that price, you're not going to get very good whisky. Or even a particularly good bottle of wine. Why not get something stranger like ice cider? (Here in Montreal a 500ml bottle of ice cider is about $15.) I.e. something he doesn't already have.
posted by musofire at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2009

An affordable, widely availabel, and decent scotch would be Glenfiddich. It's kind of your standard single malt. Don't know about prices in your area though, or what sizes are available.

Basically, so long as it is 12 years or older, and it's says "single malt" and it actually come from Scotland (or Ireland), chances are pretty good that it is decent enough. There are decent younger whiskies, and decent blends, but the safe bet is single malt and reasonably aged.
posted by molecicco at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2009

And like musofire says, good whiskey costs money, so you will definitely be buying small.
posted by molecicco at 8:21 AM on December 16, 2009

I'm happy to look at Spec's and make a suggestion, but I think your link might be wrong? From the link: SPECS leads the way in state-of-the-art technology, cutting-edge components and individually designed complex systems for surface analysis.
posted by bunnycup at 8:21 AM on December 16, 2009

Response by poster: Oops, this is true. I'll get an admin to change it.

And I am quite happy to stick to single servings.
posted by spamguy at 8:25 AM on December 16, 2009

The only thing on the Spec's list even close to your price range is this, which looks like it might be a three pack of tiny single malt scotches from three different years. Might be a nice gift, but it would be quite small.

GLENFIDDICH 50ML PK (12 15 50ML 11.05 258.95 [32]
posted by cider at 8:25 AM on December 16, 2009

At that price point, I think you might be better off going with an American whiskey. 20 bucks is not going to get you a decent Scotch, but you could easily get a 375 of a very nice bourbon in that range - Eagle Rare, say, or Woodford Reserve.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:36 AM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I happen to have become way more into bourbon and less into scotch in the last couple of years, and can tell you that I really, really enjoy Knob Creek. Spec's seems to have some Knob Creek in your price range. There is also a small batch bourbon collection, for it looks like $21. Those are my suggestions.
posted by bunnycup at 8:42 AM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I get Auchentoshan for $22-$25 at Spec's. It's a really nice Lowlands single malt.
posted by mattbucher at 8:50 AM on December 16, 2009

A 375 of Maker's Mark is in your price range. And tasty. For another $7, you could get Sazerac Rye, which would be a nice shift from the standard bourbon/scotch. I would look into other Ryes as well, a lot of people are surprised by them.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:54 AM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've heard that you can get Black Bottle for sub-$20. It's a blended scotch, taken from 7 islay malts. That means it's got the peaty, rich taste that many look for in Scotch, at a blended price.
posted by Vhanudux at 9:04 AM on December 16, 2009

Well, at that price range I'd suggest a non-scotch whisky/whiskey.

These recommendations are based on AZ prices, as I work in a liquor store in Tucson. (in fact I'm on shift right now...shh).

My favorite under $20 bourbon recommendation is the Elijah Craig 12yr. It's amazing to find a nice 12 yr for that price.

Also newly available (at least in my market) is Four Roses bourbon. The lowest tier should be under $20. For many years it was made for export only, and is very popular in Japan. It's soft, toasted brown sugary, and is a very courteous mixer.

Otherwise, I would get him an assortment of minis. However, usually it's just the plain ol' same ol' in the 50ml.

Anywho, maybe my husband (another liquor biz guy who has the day off) will chime in later. Let me know if you have any questions.
posted by lizjohn at 9:22 AM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Tastes in whisky can be a very subjective thing. There are five different whisky regions in Scotland, and innumerous brands and varieties within those regions. What this means is it's really a crapshoot getting something the boss might like, which could be counter-productive.

How about a gift card to Spec's to let him choose his own, or maybe a nice whisky glass that wouldn't break the bank?
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:33 AM on December 16, 2009

You can't get a decent scotch in that range, unless you get those really tiny bottles. Just above your range, you might want consider Jameson Irish Whiskey, Glenfiddich single malt scotch whisky (neither are fantastic, but they're good and all around acceptable) or Johnnie Walker Black Label (not great, really). But these aren't something I'd give as presents, these are "not a special occasion" drinks I have after work or something.

At your price point, consider Bourbon, which scales a little less expensive. Maker's Mark, Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve are good.
posted by spaltavian at 10:03 AM on December 16, 2009

It looks like they have Lismore, which I think is a good inexpensive whisky.

I disagree with previous posters who feel that you can't get something "decent" for $20. I've had good and bad whiskys at all price ranges, both cheap and expensive.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:40 AM on December 16, 2009

I had some Black Bottle the other day - pretty cheap (~$20) and a pretty great tasting Islay for the money.
posted by jourman2 at 11:02 AM on December 16, 2009

re: craven_morhead: Rittenhouse is a pretty good rye for being in your price range, although I think the Sazerac makes a bit of a better presentation.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 11:15 AM on December 16, 2009

Lismore is drinkable, but if he's a regular scotch drinker he'd be disappointed.

I second the recommendation for a good rye whisky - I like High West Whisky, which is a blend produced in Park City, UT, but that might be hard to find where you live.
posted by mmoncur at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2009

As others have said, you're not going to get fancy scotch at that price. That's ok though because fancy does not necessarily mean good. J & B is what broke scotch drinkers drink (it's not on the site you linked to, but you should be able to find it at just about any liquor store).
posted by nomad at 11:20 AM on December 16, 2009

Nth bourbon. Its much cheaper than scotch and can be every bit as good. I'd also avoid getting common brands that he's had before--I'm a bourbon drinker, and I'd be much more excited about receiving a bottle of booze I've never tried before rather than a standard (Maker's, Beam, Woodford, etc.), even if it turned out I didn't like it as much as the "old standbys". My suggestion along those lines is Bulleit Bourbon, its relatively new, close to your price range (+$4) and really, really tasty.
posted by jtfowl0 at 11:32 AM on December 16, 2009

You can get Cutty Sark for about twenty bucks. It's a bit sweet for me, although that makes it a better whisky to drink straight.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 11:54 AM on December 16, 2009

Jamesons Irish Whiskey is lovely...it's all I ever drink. I'm not sure if it would please a dedicated Scotch drinker but I think it's tops. 750ml is around $24.
posted by sully75 at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2009

My suggestion along those lines is Bulleit Bourbon, its relatively new, close to your price range (+$4) and really, really tasty.

I was coming in here to say exactly this.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:07 PM on December 16, 2009

In the past, I’ve bought Glenrothes Select Reserve for $25 (though the shop you link to has it for $40). It’s good value, if you can find it that cheap. Your link has a Speyburn for $25. I might try that.

Nthing Jameson’s. Clean flavor, not as complex as a good scotch, but quite good. I’d avoid J&B and Cutty Sark, myself. Yech.

Lots of suggestions for burbon or rye – does he like them? I can't stand them; they’re sickly sweet in a way the puts me right off.
posted by SirNovember at 12:23 PM on December 16, 2009

See? I hate burbon so much I misspell it intentionally! Yeah, that’s it.
posted by SirNovember at 12:26 PM on December 16, 2009

Also, you say that your giftee enjoys booze; if that extends to beer, you can get a lot of very interesting beers within a $20 price range. Many liquor stores allow you to build your own 6-pack from a good selection of different beers; that could be another option depending on giftee's preferences.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:26 PM on December 16, 2009

I switched to Evan Williams Black and White Horse Scotch based on this Jan 2009 Esquire article on the best cheap liquor.
posted by cross_impact at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2009

Giving someone a bottle of J&B or Bell's or some other cheap whiskey as a present is not festive or creative. I have certainly bought a bunch of cheap whiskey for myself in my own lifetime, but getting it as a present is like getting a bunch of canned tomatoes as a present. You don't give people basic food-and-drink staples as a present in contexts like office parties--it's just not done.

A sampler of little bottles of Scotch or artisanal bourbon or whatever is much more appropriate. Creativity is much more important in this context than quantity or value for money.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2009

I'm the other liquor professional that LizJohn mentioned. For Pete's sake, get your boss something he likely hasn't tried, or, failing that, something he doesn't have already at home.

At your price point, Nthing Bourbon. You'll likely find a much more interesting, well-developed Bourbon for $20ish, than you could find Scotch.

If you can find either of the 10 year Van Winkle Bourbons for around $20, snatch them up. They're uncommonly good, especially at that price point. If they have both, the higher-proof one is better. I'll throw in another vote for the Elijah Craig 12 year. It's another surprise in the lower priced Bourbons. It's one of my "everyday drinking" whiskies, and I've turned several whiskey enthusiasts towards it. Four Roses is also good, and oddly enough, I find myself more enamored with their younger, cheaper versions than their older ones.

As far as Scotch goes, the Jon, Mark and Robbo's Scotches make good gifts, as they're very decent, and something not many people have tried. The one with "Rich" in the name is the crowd-pleaser. You might not find them at all, as they've stopped distributing them as widely as they did a couple years ago, but I think Texas seems like one of the places they would remain. Their website never worked very well, and it won't even come up today, so I can't confirm where they sell it.

Anything I've mentioned can be found right at or just above your budget. With the exception of the Craig and Four Roses, you should count yourself somewhat lucky to find these, and they're uncommon enough that it's unlikely that your boss has tried them. Since they're priced very near the usuals (Beam, Maker's, Jack, Jamesons, etc.), people tend to buy the bigger names than experiment with these.

FWIW, these are the whiskies I always recommend as gifts, and never once have I gotten, "GRARHURFDURFYOUSHITHEADYOURUINEDCRIMBUS!" from anyone. I've gotten quite a few compliments for these recommendations, in fact.
posted by The Potate at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, I've heard good things about the Van Winkle Bourbons. I've had a devil of a time finding them though.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2009

Specs' site says they have the Balvenie trio pack which is a 10 yo, 12 yo and a 15 yo for $20. These are, of course, small bottles but they're all quite good.
posted by sanko at 2:16 PM on December 16, 2009

I see your Spec's link says they have 750ml bottles of Buffalo Trace bourbon for around $20. That's a great price for it - it's great stuff, probably my second favorite after Maker's Mark.

sanko's suggestion of a Balvenie trio pack is also good. I've had Balvenie's "Doublewood" and it's probably my favorite single malt Scotch.

Rittenhouse 100 rye is pretty affordable. I just bought some a week ago after consulting with the whiskey/bourbon expert at my local store. I drink Manhattans a lot, and usually keep Maker's Mark around for that. But historically they were made with rye, and it's nice to change things up sometimes so I wanted a good rye whiskey. The guy recommended the Rittenhouse 100 as "practically a steal" for barely $20. It is indeed good stuff.

To go a slightly different direction - if you know boss likes Scotch, then he might also enjoy Drambuie liqueur. It's made from a mix of Scotch and honey. You can add some to Scotch for a cocktail called a Rusty Nail, or just sip it straight. It's slightly sweet, spicy, and deceptively strong.
posted by dnash at 2:48 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go a store that sells mini-bottles and buy 2-4 bottles of high quality scotch. More interesting that way anyway, since he then gets to try a few, and you can stay under budget.
posted by skintension at 4:15 PM on December 16, 2009

Seconding Buffalo Trace. It's my favorite. You should be able to pick up a pint for about $13.
posted by mezzanayne at 7:06 PM on December 16, 2009

Nthing Buffalo Trace--this is my absolute favorite bourbon ever. It's smoky and sweet, very sippable neat or with an ice cube or two, and equally good for things like bourbon Sidecars and drizzling over high-quality vanilla ice cream. It's a bargain.
posted by teamparka at 10:56 PM on December 16, 2009

I'd love to know where you get glenrothes and auchentoshan for 25 bucks. Some more specialty places stock sampler bottles, but for a decent scotch they're still pricey.

N+1ing bourbon or rye for a good bottle under 20. Bulleit is less sweet than most (woodford, makers mark in specific) and I prefer it, being a scotchy mcdrinkerton myself. If you're hung up on scotch a blend is probably a way to get it under 20, but I am not a huge fan.

posted by Large Marge at 1:12 PM on December 17, 2009

« Older Staying in the Smokes   |   Promotional Item Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.